Chief Court Reporter
AIR ZIMBABWE has reinstated over 300 workers it fired five years ago after the Supreme Court ruled early this month that the mass dismissals via three months’ termination notices were slipshod and upheld the Labour Court decision ordering reinstatement or payment of damages in lieu of reinstatement.
The national flag carrier is one of the many State-linked and private firms that dismissed between them thousands of employees on the strength of the Zuva judgment, prompting a legal amendment that proposed by Government to restore the law to what most thought it was before that judgment, that an employee could only be dismissed for cause following a disciplinary finding or through a negotiated settlement. But this amendment was made retrospective.
Some employers then applied the standard processes of using redundancy formulas, that gave far higher payouts, but some like Air Zimbabwe took a chance that the courts would eventually overturn at least the retrospective portion of the new law. That did not happen.
Airzim’s reaction to the Supreme Court ruling is likely to trigger a similar action in other companies that laid off employees following the July 2015 Zuva judgment that allowed employers to dismiss staff on three months notice. There are formulas that can be used for redundancies, that pay out considerably more if staff have even modest service, and there are other legally approved ways of negotiating a parting of the ways. But these generally involve paying a lot more than three months salary as the employers waves goodbye.
In a letter addressed to the Airzim workers’ lawyer Mr Caleb Mucheche on December 23, the national carrier said that it had reinstated the workers to their previous positions in the company with effect from December 7, the date of the judgment.
Mr Mucheche, however, received the letter yesterday. But letters for the reinstated workers are now ready for collection
“The said letters are ready for collection at the Air Zimbabwe Head Office. We want to notify the said respondents to collect their letters within seven working days from the date of receipt of this communication,” read the letter by one T. B Mukubvu for the administrator.
Speaking on the latest development, Mr Mucheche said in terms of the law, the Supreme Court judgment created “this legal obligation for reinstatement of the unfairly dismissed employees without loss of salary and benefits or payment of damages in lieu of reinstatement”.
“Since the Supreme Court judgment is final and not appealable, the administrator is legally bound,” he said.
“The employer has a huge backlog of back pay wages and benefits for five years to pay the over 300 reinstated employees.”
The Supreme Court ruling made it clear that the statutory changes in labour law made in 2015 after a large batch of workers were dismissed on notice overrode the common law enunciated in the Zuva Supreme Court judgment of that year, and overrode it retrospectively, and permanent staff fired then on notice are deemed to be protected and should be reinstated or compensated.
The judgment confirmed that the Labour Amendment Act No 5 of 2015 did give more protection to permanent contract workers who can no longer be simply dismissed by an employer giving notice, usually three months’ notice, and critically gave this protection retrospectively, so those fired between the Zuva judgment and the enactment of the amendment were also protected. The affected workers had greatly benefited from the legal protection brought about by the action of the Government and Parliament of Zimbabwe through retrospective enactment of Labour Amendment Act No. 5